Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pose, Light, Clown, Shoot, Simple

George Hurrell, who many regard as the guy who invented glamour photography, once remarked, "Its all so simple. No one believes me. You strike a pose. Then you light it. Then you clown around and get some action in the expressions. Then, you shoot."

I don't do it in exactly that order. The order I do things swaps the first two of those steps around. I light it first. Then I have the model strike a pose or two. Then I clown around and get some action in the expressions. Then I shoot.


Hurrell believed the most critical part of "sexy" happens in the face. That would be those "expressions" he sought after some clowning around. I talked about that at some length in the most recent podcast I did with Ed Verosky. It's all in the face, mostly in the eyes, regardless of what the model is wearing, not wearing, or how hot or not she might be. And it's not about getting clowning around expressions. The clowning around is all about relaxing the model, helping her feel at ease, helping her get into the groove where she'll express herself with her face and eyes, loosening up her inhibitions and going with the flow.

Famed fashion shooter, Richard Avedon, once said, "A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he is being photographed." The trick, in my opinion -- obviously, in Hurrell's opinion as well -- is to help bring the model to that place where they forget, or nearly forget, they're being photographed. That's where the clowning around part can be so effective. It helps break down the photographic barriers of self-consciousness in the minds of your models.

Of all the tools in my photographer's bag of tricks, I think humor and clowning around are the most important and most effective. Clowning around doesn't mean you need to be a comedian. My father was a serious man. He didn't often engage in anything I'd call "comedy." But he could sometimes clown around.

If you're shooting glam or most any other kind of portraiture and you treat the process as if someone's life depends on getting the shot, you have a better shot at not getting the shot then if you treat it much more lightly. (Treating things somewhat lightly generally goes hand-in-hand with clowning around.) I'm not saying be a clown. Being a clown doesn't often work well. But clowning around is not the same as being a clown.

Course, if you're shooting portraits of clowns, being a clown yourself might work. But if I was a photographer of clowns, I still wouldn't be a clown. I wouldn't want to have to deal with that big red clown nose getting in the way of holding the camera to my eye. Plus, I wouldn't want grease paint getting smeared all over my camera.

There are, of course, many ways to clown around and help get the model relaxed, loosened up, and forgetting she's being photographed and I'm CERTAINLY NOT ADVOCATING or recommending the method depicted in the candid, behind-the-scenes shot I provided above. (I wonder if I should submit it to a stock photography site as a "lifestyle" image?) BTW, the model above is NOT a pothead. She lives in California. That makes her a patient, not a pothead... California's medical marijuana laws and all that. Hey! I'm just sayin! :-)

Speaking of BTS, i.e., behind-the-scenes shots, I just created a Flickr group called "FYI BTS." I'm hoping it will attract some photographers willing to share BTS shots from their photo shoots or simply discuss some of the stuff they might see in the BTS shots. You can find and join this new, public Flickr group by CLICKING HERE.


Bill Giles said...

I had never heard the comment attributed to Hurrell, but it does make some sense. I think that spontaneity makes a big difference in the outcome of a shoot and most often that spontaneity comes out in facial expressions.

I'm on Flickr, but have never really tried to post anything. Don't really have a lot to post, I guess. I hope that you can stimulate some interest and get some posts.

John said...

Good insights. Thanks.